There was a moment early on during Daniel Kitson’s performance of 66a Church Road – A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases which crystallised what it is about Denby Dale’s most famous son that keeps me enthused for more. Running through the joys of having a flat handily-located amongst assorted late night take-away emporia, Daniel admitted that he used to over-order from the local sushi shop, just because he didn’t want it to close down.
Logical and daft; altruistic and greedy; plausible and unlikely; idiosyncratic and universal; a bit sad yet brilliantly funny; it’s a throwaway line that encapsulates why I’m happy to be at my third Daniel Kitson performance in under a year.
It also reminds me of previous Kitson shows where, despite any evidence that it was required, I’d occasionally find myself laughing a little longer or louder than necessary just because I didn't want Kitson to come off stage thinking ‘what a lifeless bunch of bastards, I’m not playing here again…’ This is only a small step from believing your football team will concede a goal because you’ve gone to the toilet mid-game but hey, that’s how my brain works.
Fortunately for me, tonight’s performance – a one-man theatre piece like his 2006 show C-90 rather than straight stand up – offers plenty of space to just sit back, absorb and admire rather than worrying about whether I’m laughing enough in a room full of 300 people in hysterics.
Described by Kitson as ‘a break up show for my flat,’ 66a Church Road is the charming, poignant and - yes - bloody funny story about his relationship with the eponymous apartment. The bulk of the show is sit-down comedy; a chronology of his encounter, bonding and ultimate parting of the ways with a building full of its own flawed idiosyncrasies. On the way we meet soulless real estate agents and frustratingly asinine landlords; are reminded of Daniel’s Roald Dahl-inspired fear of witches and begin to understand his love of Church Road, even though we’ve never been.
Elevating this into something special are the beautiful Wes Anderson-style vignettes which punctuate the evening. With studio lights down Kitson’s pre-recorded voice tenderly describes fleeting moments - some funny, some mundane, some lovely - from his tenure in the flat. He is backed by an acoustic guitar and an array of gorgeous and intricate models and projections that spark into life from the battered leather suitcases surrounding the stage. Plucked from random points in the chronology and polished to a shine, these moments show us that it’s as much what went on at 66a as the building itself that made it ‘home’.
Many Daniel Kitson themes are present tonight: the silent war against people who are dicks, the celebration of the everyday, the search for ‘something which ticks the Lovely Box 47 times’. He has a knack for picking out his own flaws, holding them up for public display and then reminding everyone that it’s these little ticks and tricks - that we all have (even his flat) - that make life so wonderful.
Stylistically 66a Church Road is one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads presented as your favourite episode of Jackanory, with Kitson an enthusiastic story teller. Some words fly by so fast you miss them (perhaps a sign of how many times he has spoken these lines over the past two years) but overall the balance between the two elements of the show works marvellously well.
One minor grumble - that some of us couldn't see the models and projections because of the way the stage was set up - was quickly forgotten when Daniel re-emerged at the end, cutting short his applause to apologise and offering people the opportunity to come down the front and have a look on their way out, which was a nice touch.
With C-90 and now Church Road Kitson is slowly but surely upping the stakes amongst his stand up peers. Eschewing the Saturday Night Live / Eddie Izzard / Steve Coogan route of watered down guest roles in other people’s projects (perhaps a result of being burned by his Phoenix Nights experience) he has once again hand-crafted something special that is funny yet still deeply affecting.
66a Church Road – A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases runs at the Art House in Melbourne until 31 January. Tickets are available here. There are also shows throughout February in Brisbane (Powerhouse) and Perth (Subiaco Arts Centre). If you’re hesitating about going I’d suggest you take the plunge. This is pretty much the end for this show and you wouldn’t want to miss out on something that ticks the Lovely Box, ooh, at least 47 times.
For more Kitson-related Custardry click here.